Round 1, Group 69 (Romance)

Prompt: Drama (Genre), A beauty pageant (Location), A cash register (Object); word count without title or synopsis: 994

In the fading light of a Texas sunset, young Jolie wept and only God, the angels and the cold alley walls heard her sorrowful cries. Pageants are supposed to be happy celebrations of life, with tears of victory and joy, not the overwhelming grief of knowing how fragile life truly is.

Five Words

Jolie’s pink evening gown clashed with the dingy gray of the steps where she sat, her face marked with tears, makeup, and disappointment. She shook her head and looked to the skies, pleading with the only audience she thought might hear her. “Why me? Why me again?” She leaned against the railing as she read the words off her phone. Just five words.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS: Metastatic melanoma detected.

The brain scan and biopsy had been over a week ago, and she had asked her mother to send the results as soon as they arrived. Five words. Horrible, painful, deadly words. They redefined her life. They stole hope. They turned her from a survivor to a depressing statistic. That morning she had been standing in line at the store reading the sad story on the collection box in front of the cash register, happy it was not her picture pleading for help. Not the best moment for a Miss Teen Texas contestant. So much for moral fiber. Something flew in her face, jolting her out of her miserable reflections. Darkness had fallen, the screen of her phone attracting bugs in the cool Dallas evening.

The handle of the theater door would not budge. “Locked! Really?” She pounded on the door in a frenzy, trying the handle again and again, as if it would magically unlock if she pounded hard enough. Inside she imagined the happy bustle as the other contestants prepared for the pageant. She should be sitting in front of a mirror prepping her makeup and touching up her hair, joking and laughing with her competitors. Instead she was wondering if she would even have hair in a few months, if she would ever laugh again, or if she would even be alive. It was too much for the 16-year-old. She turned back toward the night sky and screamed, “Why do you hate me? What did I ever do to you?”

“What did you ever do to who and who could possibly hate you, Miss Jolie Smithers?”

Jolie nearly fell down the stairs at the unexpected voice, but her fears evaporated when she saw Mrs. Walters standing at the open door. She was one of the chaperones who helped at the events. Jolie liked her.

“I’ve been lookin’ all over for you, Miss Jolie, but I never would have looked out here if I hadn’t heard you poundin’ on this door. Well, don’t stand there starin’, get in out of the cold night and let’s get you ready.” Jolie went in the theater and stood across from Mrs. Walters in the hallway. “Now you tell me who hates a wonderful young lady like yourself so I can set them straight.”

“God, Mrs. Walters. God hates me and I don’t know why!”

“Land sakes, child, what an awful thing for you to think about yourself. Why on earth would you think that?”

“Cancer. I have cancer. Again.” Jolie fell on Mrs. Walter’s shoulder and wept.

They embraced each other, bound by sorrow in a sacred moment of mourning, the commotion of the pageant washing over the sounds of grief. Mrs. Walters stroked Jolie’s auburn hair and whispered words of comfort and love until Jolie quieted down. Strong, wise hands raised Jolie’s head and she saw her own pain and grief reflected in the face of Mrs. Walters.

“As sure as I’m standing here I can tell you, God does not hate you Miss Jolie Renee Smithers. None of us know from day to day what burdens or blessin’s we will carry into the next, but we all choose how we carry ourselves.” Jolie rolled her tear-filled eyes. “I know this is a hard pill to swallow, dear. The worst. You’ve been in this fight before, and I know you’re tired, but you just keep pushin’.

“You have always been one of my favorites in the pageant. Your kindness and compassion set you apart.” Jolie blushed. “Cancer can wreck a body whether we like it or not, but it can only wreck our soul if we give it permission.”

Jolie nodded and asked, “How do you know so much about cancer, Mrs. Walters?”

“Oh, we’re old friends, sweetheart. The man that made me a Mrs. fought his battle hard until three years ago. The thing I cherish most is that Johnny was the same kind, gracious, funny and loving man the day he passed as he was the day we met. Cancer couldn’t touch anything that made Johnny, Johnny.”

“I don’t think I can go through with tonight?” Jolie looked at the stage with fear in her eyes.

“For sure and certain you can! Don’t you dare let cancer tell you how to live your life. You’ve worked so hard to get here, sweetheart.”

“I’m going to need some help. I’ve gone and made a mess of myself.” Jolie pointed at her face with both hands and made a goofy expression. Mrs. Walters grateful for a change of tide, but knew that the tears would return more than a few times in the days ahead. It was good to see a smile on that beautiful face. They walked arm in arm to Jolie’s prep area and began the process of making her as beautiful outside as she was inside.

It had been almost a year since that conversation in a theater doorway. Mrs. Walters stood alone under a tree on a small knoll in a small town north of Dallas. She had come back after the service to grieve in her own way. “Well, Jolie girl, you sure did give that cancer a hard fight. And you kept your soul whole. They’re namin’ an award after you for overcomin’ adversity. Couldn’t be prouder. Say ‘Hi’ to Johnny for me and keep him company until I see you both.” She stooped to place a bouquet next to the headstone. Jolie’s name, two dates, and five words engraved in stone.

She lived a beautiful life.

Just five words.



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